Exploring the Causes and Consequences of Pediatric Brain Injuries
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) most recent Congressional report, children have the highest rate of emergency department visits due to traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) compared to all other age groups. Children are not born with TBIs, but acquire them from a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body, or when an object penetrates their skull, according to the CDC. While the exact numbers vary based on the reporting agency and on the specific study, one recent study conducted in 2017 concluded that, on average, about 475,000 children under the age of 14 sustain a TBI each year, resulting in over 35,000 hospitalizations and over 2,500 fatalities. These statistics become even more alarming when you remember that they only include child brain injuries.
Symptoms that children experience following a brain injury are not all that different from those that adults will experience, but the long-term consequences can be different. Children’s brains are still developing, so the full extent of their injury may not be obvious until they get older. This delay often creates lifelong challenges for children who are injured. This guide will review the symptoms and causes of pediatric brain injuries, present the consequences and treatments for such injuries in children, and discuss ways to help children who have sustained a TBI.
What Are the Symptoms of a Pediatric Brain Injury?
The symptoms of a pediatric TBI vary based on the location, severity, and the body functions that are affected. According to the CDC, TBI symptoms fall into four categories: (1) thinking/remembering, (2) physical, (3) emotional/mood, and (4) sleep. Symptoms that affect cognitive function include difficulty thinking clearly, concentrating, and remembering new information. Physical symptoms include headaches, blurred vision, vomiting, dizziness, sensitivity to noise or light, balance issues, and feeling lethargic. If your child sustains a brain injury, you might notice mood swings and behavior changes that include irritability, sadness, anxiety, lowered self-esteem, and more.
Some severe symptoms require immediate medical attention, whether you call an ambulance or take your child to a nearby emergency department, such as the Tampa Bay General Hospital. These symptoms include:
- Your child complains of headaches that are getting worse and won’t go away.
- Your child seems weak and uncoordinated, or they complain of numbness.
- Your child vomits repeatedly.
- Your child slurs his or her speech or has trouble speaking.
- You cannot wake your child up or they lose consciousness.
- Your child has convulsions or a seizure.
- Your child refuses to eat or nurse.
- Your child will not stop crying and cannot be consoled.
What Causes Pediatric Brain Injuries?
Pediatric brain injuries have numerous causes that vary by age. A 2017 study examined the characteristics of pediatric brain injuries and outlined the most common injuries and the causes for each age group.
During childbirth, infants might experience a head injury from delivery, intracranial hemorrhages, or hematomas in different areas of the brain. These pediatric brain injuries are usually caused by obstetric tools, such a forceps, when the head gets compressed as the baby travels through the birth canal. Low birth weight and low oxygen levels might also cause intracranial hemorrhages.
Newborns might experience an accidental head injury or an abusive head trauma. While it may seem obvious, poor childcare practices often cause these types of injuries. Accidental causes may include something as simple as a caregiver dropping an infant or an unsafe product like the Bumbo Chair. While the company recalled the chair and provided warnings about the dangers, babies from three to ten months have suffered serious head traumas from these chairs.
Sadly, abusive head traumas, often part of shaken baby syndrome, are the most common cause of brain injury-related hospitalizations and deaths in infants. If you have a daycare center, nanny, or other caregiver helping out while your child is an infant, and your child displays some of the previously mentioned symptoms, it is possible that your childcare provider is hiding an accident or other abuse from you.
Toddlers and School Age Children
While toddlers are learning to walk, they may not always have strong footing and balance. Furthermore, as toddlers grow, they run and play so much that falling and hitting their tender heads on the ground, a table, or any other piece of furniture or structure is quite common. In fact, falls are responsible for about half of all TBIs in children under the age of 15. The drastic increase in child safety seat usage and accompanying safety laws have greatly reduced car accident injuries in children, which was one a very common cause of TBI.
Many tweens and teens spend a lot of time on their bicycles, and they may not always wear helmets despite their parents’ wishes. Bicycle accidents and sports-related head injuries are the most common cause of pediatric head injuries in this age group. Boxing, martial arts, football, and rugby are some of the most common sports associated with serious head traumas.
What Are the Possible Outcomes of a Pediatric Brain Injury?
A 2018 CDC congressional report about TBIs in children details the impacts of brain injuries on children and their families. The key to understanding outcomes of brain injuries in children is recognizing that a child’s brain differs greatly from an adult’s brain. As children grow, so does their brain function, and many behavioral skills and personality traits don’t fully develop until adulthood. Sustaining a pediatric TBI may put children at risk of not completely developing these important skills. Research about the exact ways that TBIs affects children has many gaps, but it does support the idea that TBIs are a chronic condition in adults. Thus, TBIs likely affect children similarly, but for a longer period of time given their young age.
The aforementioned symptoms of a pediatric brain injury may take days, weeks, months, or years to appear, and they are important for diagnostic purposes. However, when considering the tender heads and developing brains of children, a wide array of medical and behavioral outcomes that go beyond these symptoms may appear and continue to plague injured children for their entire lives. Some of the most common medical outcomes that the CDC reports in children who have suffered a brain injury include:
- Autonomic dysfunction, which includes an increase in all vitals, including heart rate, breathing, temperature, and blood pressure.
- Disorders of consciousness include coma, being in a persistent vegetative state, and minimal consciousness.
- Post-traumatic headaches are the most common issue after a pediatric brain injury; they typically fade over time.
- Swelling or increased fluid in the brain often requires the placement of a drain to get rid of pressure and prevent complications, such as seizures, loss of function, and depression.
- Hormone production and regulation problems are especially important to consider, because hormones regulate normal brain development and growth. These deficiencies require regular screening because hormone issues might develop months or years after an injury.
- Gastrointestinal/nutritional problems including upper GI bleeding, reflux, constipation, and other bowel issues; some children require a feeding tube after a TBI to deal with these issues.
- Urinary system problems are common with a pediatric TBI, but they often go away with time after an injury.
- Motor dysfunctions that may occur include muscle spasms, poor coordination, tremors, and balance issues, but the specific type that a child might experience depends on the exact location of the brain injury. These issues may cause a child to have difficulty walking or providing self-care.
- Respiratory problems might occur in severe TBIs where a child is unconscious for long periods of time and required to be on a ventilator.
- Unexpected bone growth occurs most often around four months after a severe pediatric brain injury and typically affects the hip, knee, shoulder, and/or elbow.
- Blood clotting disorders
- Sensory issues primarily include problems with vision and hearing, such as double vision, blindness, and hearing loss that may result in impaired speech development. On occasion, pediatric brain injury victims suffer from impairment to their smell and taste, which may present challenges for personal hygiene if an older child cannot smell body odor.
- Seizures most often occur immediately after a TBI, but in rare cases, some children may suffer repeated seizures longer after the injury.
For children, the cognitive, academic, and social/behavioral outcomes are all intertwined and rely heavily on the extent and location of the injury, but even a mild brain injury or concussion can have long-lasting effects. While mild injuries might result in problems such as reading disabilities or struggles with peer relationships, more severe pediatric brain injuries may create daily challenges at school and home for years to come. According to the CDC, more than two-thirds of children that experience a severe TBI develop psychiatric disorders following their injury. Further, changes in behavior might result in self-harm, harm to others, poor choices that lead to incarceration, alcohol abuse, and/or drug abuse. Below we discuss some of the most common cognitive, academic, and social/behavioral outcomes that can result from a pediatric brain injury:
- Issues with self-regulation
- Executive function
- Shortened attention span
- Trouble processing information
- Memory problems
- Inconsistent learning
- Gaps in knowledge
- Overall lower educational attainment
- Trouble with processing social information
- Difficulty with peer relationships
- Difficulty with social adjustment
- Problems with language use
- Difficulty with participation
How Can a Personal Injury Lawyer Help if My Child Was Injured?
If you suspect or know that your child has sustained a pediatric brain injury, you should seek medical attention immediately with your child’s primary care pediatrician. Typically, your doctor will evaluate your child and send you to a specialist, if necessary. If your child’s injury was the result of another party’s negligence or intent to harm your child, you might be entitled to compensation to recover losses that are related to the injury. These damages include, but are not limited to, medical expenses, including doctor visits, specialists, diagnostic tests, medications, and more; lost wages for time missed from work to care for your child and take them to medical appointments; and pain and suffering.
How a personal injury attorney can help you if your child has been injured depends heavily on the circumstances of the injury. If you are eligible for compensation, your attorney will work to get the best possible outcome for your individual case. Some specific examples include:
- If your child was injured while being cared for by a daycare facility, a friend, or a family member, and you suspect abuse, you should report your suspicion to the Tampa Bay Police Department (or your nearest police department). After a criminal investigation, the prosecutor will decide whether to file criminal charges. Beyond the criminal case, you may choose to file a civil suit against the other party. An experienced attorney will review the details of your case, complete his or her own investigation, reach out to necessary experts, and handle all of the necessary paperwork.
- When children sustain pediatric brain injuries in motor vehicle accidents, the legal process can prove more complex. In Florida, motorists are required to carry personal injury protection (PIP) insurance policies that also cover minors in their households. If your child is injured in a motor vehicle accident or while riding a bicycle, you typically need to file an insurance claim under your PIP policy prior to initiating a personal injury lawsuit. A personal injury lawyer who has experience dealing with injuries to children will advise you on whether to file a lawsuit.
Contact an Experienced Tampa Bay Attorney Today
If your child has sustained a head injury, you should be prepared to deal with all of the potential long-term consequences. Your first priority should be to get medical treatment for your child and to help them recover and learn how to cope with some of the changes that may occur as a result of the injury. Let your lawyer advocate for you and your child in court. Call the experienced legal team at the Dolman Law Group in Tampa Bay, Florida, at (727) 451-6900, or contact us online, to schedule a free consultation and to discuss the validity of your claim.
Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765